On Being Brave: Or Are We Frozen in Fear?

FrozenI haven’t seen the movie, mostly because I don’t have any little children in the house, but the media buzz is touting the amazing and empowering story of Frozen. I’m only paraphrasing what I’ve heard on TV, but it seems like this Disneyesque story doesn’t rely on the usual trope of Prince Charming swooping in to save the princess and carrying her off on his white steed, but somehow the princess learns to be brave and take care of herself.

I recently mentioned to my writeonsisters that I felt our blogs were taking a turn toward the negative, focused more on the fear and humiliation of submitting our beloved stories to agents and editors, only to have them torn to shreds. And I get that, I really do. But lately I’m feeling more like shrugging off the cloak of negativity and just doing what feels right. I read an amazing post that Robin sent me from an author named Alyssa Rose Ivy. It’s a must read! Immediately I felt relief, empowered, that maybe I can do this myself. We’ve all read about how much dysfunction there is in the publishing world and how the brutal critique from agents can bring you to your knees. Some agents are even taking large percentages from authors they sign while they use the tools available for self-publishing to grab all the profits. Despicable! (Okay, that’s a different movie.)

I confess that I’m not your typical author. I jumped into the writing world late in life and I don’t need to make a living at this, and therefore I, more than others, should embrace the attitude that I can write whatever I want and if I find an audience, that’s wonderful. If I don’t, well…I don’t. But at least I did it my way… Oh, Frank, I can hear you singing to me!

So this makes me consider risk. Nothing new is ever broached without risk. Whether it’s Christopher Columbus or Neil Armstrong, that kindergartener stepping onto the school bus that first day or a medical intern doing her first surgery. It’s scary and it’s intimidating, but really, for writers, what is there to fear? Our lives aren’t in jeopardy like a rookie cop or firefighter, an astronaut or a CIA agent. Come on! Is our self esteem that fragile? Our self-image so tenuous? I do remember being nervous as a student teacher once, fearful of screwing up a lesson on the Krebs Cycle and the Electron Transport System, an intimidating subject in biochemistry, to say the least. My master teacher gave me sage advice: “You’re not working in the Emergency Room, Caryn, if you make a mistake, nobody dies. You can correct it the next day.” Well that put things into perspective rather quickly!

I can only imagine how it might feel to finally get a contract with an agent/publisher and daydream about how many hundreds or thousands of books I’ll sell, and then plateauing at 50. I know someone who this happened to, as well as others who’ve had to return their advance or buy back all the copies that didn’t sell. Now that is scary! So, I get that there’s risk–to one’s identity or social standing, financial risk…or just feeling foolish that you even aspired to be a published author in the first place. And then there’s the risk that comes with success, as Kathy touched on when she announced she’d finally signed a deal, and honestly, something I’d never even remotely considered.

Failure is part of the process that leads to success. It shouldn’t stop you, but only make you pause, regroup, learn and revise. More of a comma than a period. Risk puts us outside our comfort zone but in the process we develop new skills that can be used over and over again. We learn to fix our mistakes and understand that mistakes happen to all of us. How many anecdotes have we heard from the likes of Steve Jobs, Warren Buffet, and Bill Gates? How many successful people have been fired or became school dropouts because they didn’t fit into the establishment? All of this leads to personal and professional growth. Avoiding risk means you’re playing it safe, enslaved by your emotions, hiding in your comfort zone where no one will judge you…too fearful to pursue your dreams. It’s imperative to manage these negative emotions and this only comes with experience. How many times did you have to fall off your bike before the fear didn’t immobilize you? You fell down, maybe even scraped an elbow or knee, but you soon realized it didn’t kill you and the fear dissipated and before you knew it you were riding like a pro.

Eventually we learn to trust ourselves but only after we have experience with risk. I feared speaking in public until one day I understood that if you talk about something you know, something that is important to you, well, you don’t need many notes and the words flow easily. No more sweaty palms and racing heart. You’re comfortable, you’re at ease. You know what you’re talking about. Being brave isn’t about not having fear, it’s having fear and moving forward anyway.

And I’ve thought a lot about this recently. Maybe for an author the goal is not to be a bestseller. It’s similar to winning the Oscar for best actor. Once you’ve reached that level of success it’s difficult to be there again in people’s minds. Consider J. K. Rowling, Stephenie Meyer, or E. L James. Can they ever write anything again that will reach that level of success? Probably not, and everything they put out subsequently seems to get trashed. Perhaps we should simply aspire to be someone whose next story is something our readers are waiting for, a story that touches them and might make them think about it long after they finish. That’s all.

Superhero kid



So be brave… as Sara Barielles sings in the song of the same name.

Put it on your iPod and listen carefully to the lyrics for an added pep talk…

Because I want you to be brave…I really do.

Author: Caryn McGill

Caryn is a former high school science teacher, school district administrator and adjunct college professor.

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